AG ONE Newsletter September 26, 2017

SENATE SAYS NO: BUDGET STILL UNRESOLVED

On Wednesday, September 20, the PA Senate rejected a House-passed revenue bill (House Bill 453) by a vote of 43-7, thus paving the way for a Conference Committee where three House members and three Senators thrash out differences.  At issue is the Senate approach which included new taxes and the House version which had no new taxes but instead tapped about 50 dedicated funds to balance the State Budget.

Backdrop on the Senate Vote

Technically, the Senate vote was on a motion to non-concur with House amendments to House Bill 453.  The vote showed that the more conservative wing of the Republican Party has less influence in the more moderate Senate than it does in the House where conservatives were able to convince all but 15 Republicans to go for the no-tax option.  The seven Senators voting for the House approach were John DiSanto (Perry/Dauphin), John Eichelberger (Blair), Scott Hutchinson (Venango), Mike Regan (Cumberland), Pat Stefano (Westmoreland/Somerset/Fayette), Scott Martin (Lancaster), and Scott Wagner (York).  Stalwart Senate conservatives Michelle Brooks (Erie/Warren/Crawford/Mercer) and Mike Folmer (Lebanon/Dauphin) voted with the majority in opposing the House version.

What Happens Next

The PA House will be in session this week and things could begin to take shape.  Assuming that there is to be a Conference Committee, there may be jockeying for who represents the House in negotiations – will it be leadership or will it include a House member who is ideologically committed to no new taxes?  The Senate’s return is not scheduled until October 16 but they would come back sooner if there is something on which to vote.  An obvious point of disagreement is taking money from dedicated funds.  Should funds established for specific purposes be off-limits or should they be considered savings accounts which could be used in case of a fiscal crisis?

Dedicated Funds May Still Be In Play

With Senate rejection of the House amendments, a quick look would suggest that dedicated funds are safe, but ultimately, the final budget bill may include some taxes (Senate version) and some dedicated funds (House version).  The point here is that the Budget impasse is far from over!

PSCFO ACTS ON BUDGET

At the September 18 State Council meeting, PSCFO directed that a letter be sent to legislators asking them not to go after agricultural funds’ reserves (such as the Conservation District Fund) since doing so would cripple programs.  The letter went out September 19.

HOUSE & SENATE COMMITTEES TO MEET ON SPOTTED LANTERNFLY

On October 18, the Senate Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee and the House Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee will hold a joint hearing on efforts to contain the spread of the Spotted Lanternfly.  This invasive species has the potential to impact PA’s grape, tree fruit, plant nursery, hops, and logging industries.  Quarantines are now in effect for parts of Chester, Berks, Bucks, Lehigh, Montgomery, and Northampton Counties.  On September 23, the PA Bulletin updated a list of affected townships.

http://www.pabulletin.com/secure/data/vol47/47-38/1577.html

STATE COUNCIL TAKES POLICY POSITIONS

The PA State Council of Farm Organizations endorsed two pieces of legislation at its September 18 meeting.  First is House Bill 544 (Moul-R-Adams).  It provides some liability protection to property owners who allow recreational use on their land (ATVs, etc.) who have added improvements.  The second piece of legislation is Senate Bill 740 (Aument-R-Lancaster).  It requires utilities to provide landline telephone service to rural areas since there is insufficient access to cell and Internet.  SB 740 maintains the current level of the Universal Service Fund through 2021.

UPCOMING

SENATE REAPPOINTS STATE CONSERVATION COMMISSION

On September 20, the PA Senate voted 50-0 to confirm reappointments to the State Conservation Commission.  These include Ronald J. Rohall from Ligonier, Ronald E. Kopp, Middletown, and Michael Flinchbaugh, York.  Included in the same vote were two reappointments to the State Board of Auctioneers, Nevin Rentzel from York and Sherman Hostetter, Jr. from Beaver.

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